Former Derry Journal editor becomes Childline volunteer in lockdown
HE SPENT just over four decades as an employee of the north-west’s leading local newspaper, the “Derry Journal,” leaving the stage as the editor of the paper before opting to take early retirement last year.
While he’s predictably proud of his career achievements, these days ARTHUR DUFFY is also quite proud to have recently emerged from training as a qualified volunteer Childline dual counsellor.
Spending his working life under one employer clearly highlights his love and loyalty for the ‘Journal’ and, indeed, the people who have worked there.
Now, however, it’s onwards and upwards, albeit in a voluntary capacity, where he has committed at least four hours each week to the local Foyle Childline base, a highly respected charity helping support children under the age of 19 years.
“I was very fortunate to have experienced a fabulous career at the ‘Journal,’ a local firm which employed so many great personalities. People who taught me so much, from the production areas right through to the editorial department,” recalled Arthur.
“It was a joy to work there and having spent 42-years in the company of people who have become close friends, tells its own story,” he added.
However, having opted to take advantage of an early retirement deal through voluntary redundancy, he admits that he does miss the daily camaraderie which existed among the staff but, overall, he hasn’t looked back. “I had every intention of supporting a local charity when I retired as I genuinely expected to have plenty of spare time on my hands. I wanted to have a plan in place and a routine that would keep me busy,” he said.
And his decision to join the Childline ranks proved to be a rewarding, yet a challenging experience at times.
While aware of the existence of the Childline base in Derry and, in particular, the Dame Esther Rantzen influence, Arthur began to read into the aims and objectives of the charity.
“I actually noticed an advertisement published in the ‘Journal’ after I had left, seeking volunteers for Childline and that set me thinking.
“Having discussed the situation with my wife, Martina and my children Sharon and Conor, they were all in agreement that it could prove to be a challenging experience, but one which I would embrace.
“So I applied and in March of this year and I attended a group interview in Childline’s local Foyle base which is situated close to the city’s Guildhall.
“However, unpredictable issues were to unfold almost immediately with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic which decimated my volunteering group in March, with just three members - as far as I know - actually entering training to become dual counsellors,” he noted.
“The Foyle base not only faced a drop-off in trained volunteers, but new obstacles such as ensuring the social distancing of staff, not to mention the constant sanitising of computers, telephone equipment and workspaces etc. as the pandemic continued to take hold in Northern Ireland.
“Following the interview, I was surprised to receive an e-mail from the branch asking if I would be interested in taking part in an observation shift with an experienced counsellor. I agreed and my training basically commenced from that point - roughly five months ago.”
He said training during the COVID-19 crisis certainly had its challenges, but with strict controls adhered to at the Foyle base, the team managed to maintain a high level of service despite depleted numbers.
“In fact, during lockdown and with children basically locked-in at home, Childline’s service experienced a significant increase in calls with children constantly struggling with boredom and related issues. Some young people became totally stressed out, while others struggled with schooling from home and many contacted the charity seeking support,” recalled Arthur.
“Initially I trained as a PIB (Personal Inbox) counsellor, answering low risk e-mails from young people and I suddenly began to understand the importance of using child-centred language, a far cry from what I had been used to as a journalist!
“PIB training got me on the road, not only to getting a grasp of the many problems encountered by young people today, but it also introduced me to the Counselling Room which, I must admit, proved to be an intimidating experience on my early visits.
“Listening to the conversations between counsellors donning head-phones, who were engaging with children, some of whom were finding themselves in potentially dangerous situations or experiencing an emotional crisis, proved to be quite an eye-opening introduction to Childline.
“But from that point onwards, every day proved to be a school day for me and the vital support, advice and friendship of the supervisors, staff members and, indeed, fellow volunteers helped me realise the importance of the work I had found myself in.
“The atmosphere created by everyone involved made all new volunteers particularly welcome. Once I got used to arriving for a shift, I felt comfortable and I really enjoyed the friendship which existed among staff members who were quick to welcome new faces, offering support and advice at all times,” smiled Arthur.
He also felt the regular conversations and advice offered by staff members proved invaluable during his training period.
And he heaped praise on the supervisory team at the Foyle base, individuals he described as ‘highly qualified personnel boasting wide-ranging qualities’ who would make his life as a dual counsellor much more comfortable.
“When dangerous situations arise during conversations with young people - and they do arise - supervisors take immediate control by guiding the counsellor’s conversation with the child.
“They take overall responsibility for the situation; volunteers alert supervisors to make them fully aware of any potential situation that could threaten the well-being of the young person on the call. I felt that vital back-up would prove to be a significant supportive cushion for the counsellor dealing with the call,” claimed Arthur.
Volunteers are urged to complete one shift per week. Shifts last for three and a half hours with a half an hour de-brief when shift ends.
And Arthur felt the half hour de-brief session played an integral role for volunteers and staff members.
“After the shift has been completed, volunteers take part in the de-brief session, with one of the supervisors making sure everyone is healthy and happy before leaving to go home.
“The de-brief serves a major role when volunteers would discuss the calls they took and how they felt when supporting young people. They may discuss difficulties which they encountered on shift or, indeed, seek advice on how they managed to deal with certain situations.
“I think it’s a great way to end the shift and for many volunteers, it’s a relaxing period during which they feel that they have done everything in their power to assist young people who may be in a state of distress,” concluded Arthur.
**If Arthur has inspired you to become a volunteer with Childline Foyle please email [email protected] for more information.